The power of an invitation
This past winter my 9-year-old son took up wrestling. His friends and their parents had warmly and consistently invited him (and us) to give it a try. They regularly spoke about the great community, the wonderful coaches and just how good it was for the kids. Having no prior experience with the sport (most of my previous athletic experiences centered around soccer and basketball) it took a while for the seed to take root. But eventually we decided to give it a try.
After the first practice, my son was hooked and couldn’t wait for the next practice. In our home at dinner time, we go around the table and ask everyone to share their “highlight of the day.” My son’s highlight the next day was “I get to go to wrestling practice tomorrow.” He was definitely excited. And as a parent, I found what was advertised was true — the community was impressive, the coaches were great with the kids clearly loved what they were doing. In addition, that kind of physical activity was really good for my son. I watched my son eagerly soak up the teaching and the various moves, and he looked forward to learning more.
Can we not do the same, inviting others to experience life in Christ, especially with our young people? In getting my son to try wrestling, there was a regular and warm invitation that was backed up by a solid community, knowledgeable and supportive coaches. We have the opportunity to offer a similar invitation, backed up by our own parish communities, filled with teachers eager to help others grow.
We are starting a new year of parish faith formation. What if our communities were that warm and welcoming, eager to invite new participants (evangelization)? What if our teachers were so knowledgeable about their material and clearly manifested a love both for what they teach and for the young people they work with (catechesis)? And what if we truly saw this life of faith as being beneficial for our kids?
Skeptical as to whether this is possible? I’m writing this column as we complete our summer Totus Tuus Program. I can’t help but see parallels between the wrestling example above and what our young people experienced through this program. And those of you reading this who had your children or grandchildren participate know of what I speak. The weeklong program features a tremendous community. The teachers (coaches) are amazing, clearly loving their faith and feeling privileged to share it with the young people and teenagers. And the young participants refer to it as one of the highlights of their summer.
Of note, while the eight men and women who serve as teachers (or missionaries) for the summer come to us with a strong faith, they begin the summer with 10 days of intense prayer and training, being taught the curriculum, activities, skits and songs, being mentored and trained by some of the best Totus Tuus leaders. Having been trained, they then set out to serve parishes throughout Vermont with a spirit of joyful evangelization.
A few years ago, as a way of supporting and encouraging our parish catechetical leaders (the folks who are in charge of religious education at each parish), the Diocese partnered with the Catechetical Institute at Franciscan University of Steubenville. Over a 2-year period, every parish catechetical leader takes a total of 12 online courses from some of the best catechetical instructors in both content and methodology. In addition, each PCL is matched up with a mentor in the Diocese to walk with them through these courses and help them implement what they are learning with their parish work. This is completely free to the PCL as the Diocese pays for them to receive this training and support.
The goal is that they, as part of a beautiful community, come to know and fall more in love with both the content of the faith and the young people they are called to teach — so that they may help lead their students more fully to a relationship with Christ in His Church. And who knows, maybe their young students will list their time in faith formation as among the “highlights of their day.”
Please pray for our teachers, those involved in faith formation and our young people. And let us aim to be as warm and welcoming of a community, led by wonderful teachers, capable of inspiring our young people to succeed in the greatest wrestling match of all; living out our faith in this world so as to attain eternal life in the world to come.
—Deacon Phil Lawson is the executive director of pastoral ministries for the Diocese of Burlington. He can be reached at email@example.com.
—Originally published in the Fall 2022 issue of Vermont Catholic magazine.